At Parker, we graduate students who love to learn and know how to keep learning. The teachers who instill this passion for pursuing curiosity and talents are themselves life-long learners. Parker’s professional development supports the interests and aspirations of our individual teachers while also serving to bring the entire faculty together for common learning. For the past four years, faculty have been engaged in examining our practices around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This past month, Parker welcomed Gemma Halfi, Assistant Director of DEI at Emma Willard, to lead our faculty in a day-long SEED seminar.
SEED stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, and it is based on the idea that every person is an expert on their own story. The seminar leads participants through explorations of their own life experiences through the lenses of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Throughout the day, our faculty used a series of strategies including reflection, story-sharing, examination of identity, deep listening, vulnerability, explorative lessons about equity and identity concepts, and critical examination of our own institution through the lens of equity and belonging.
Our day started with Gemma leading us through the foundational philosophies and concepts behind SEED work. Following that, our group took time to do an introductory check-in, giving each person an opportunity to introduce themselves and also to focus on what they are bringing to the space, what they wish to leave out of the space, and what they hope to take away from the space. This exercise provided an opportunity to practice a small dose of vulnerability before heading into the heftier identity work of the day.
Our substantial work began with a focus on gender stories, as we were asked to read “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. Following that reading, we each took time to write our own gender poems. We then broke into small groups to share our work. Here is just a short aggregation of some of the many beautiful lines that were shared:
“Run. Be the fastest, or at least not the last. Don’t hit your sisters, but brothers can play rough. Smile. Why are you acting quiet and angry? Knock that pout off your face. Wear your nice clothes. Go out and play with your brothers, but don’t get dirty. Clean your room. Get good grades. Don’t act out because I know people at the school and I will find out. Be independent but also be vulnerable. Don’t look like you try too hard. Try your hardest.”
After sharing, each group focused on what was present in what was written. Many of the women in our group commented on the pressure men articulated to be tough and responsible, and our male faculty noted the contradictory pressure many women experienced to be both independent and dependent.
From here, we moved on to exploring this gender exercise using the framework of “windows and mirrors”. Collectively, we discussed what we heard from the various readings that was a “window” for us, providing insight into another experience. We also examined what we heard that held up a “mirror,” reflecting our own experience back to us. We then talked about what other systems were in place in our discussion about gender, and we identified socio-economic status, religion, race, culture, and family structures. This helped illuminate the fact that even when we focus on just one lens of our identity, there is no way to avoid the other lenses. Each of us has a complex intersection of identities, and we approach everything in life through that lens, which we need to acknowledge.
After this intensely personal sharing, the latter part of our day was focused on moving from our own experience to examining bigger systems of oppression, while always returning to the premise that we are each experts in our own stories. We began by looking at categories, and determining what categories exist that affect one’s ability to survive and thrive in society, and which categories are most compelling in our own lives. We identified that there is a relationship between the way we categorize people and what people have access to, and we acknowledged that “choice” is an important component of power and privilege.
Finally, we moved on to the very difficult work of examining our experiences with oppression. Privately, we wrote about an experience with oppression where we as an individual were in the oppressive group. Then we wrote about a time when we were denied access to something we needed to survive or thrive because of our identity. Lastly, we were challenged to consider the first two prompts through the lens of race and write to that experience. We broke into smaller groups and commenced with some intensely intimate sharing. As one of our teachers later reflected, “It was profound to be so personal and vulnerable, and then to realize that we can access the big picture through these smaller personal interactions.”
Overall, the day was a testament to the value of devoting professional development time to fostering connection between faculty. Through the vulnerability of shared personal stories, we learned that we each have expertise on our own lived experience, and that is how we learn from each other. The implications for bringing this forward into our community are clear. Listening, sharing, and processing our intersecting identities allowed us to think about the bigger systems of oppression at play that are connected to our individual stories. Sharing such accountability in a space that was not about blame, shame, or guilt helped us all to deepen our awareness and understanding in compelling ways. We are excited to bring this work forward to share within our community, amongst each other as colleagues, and with our students.